Dettmer's dedication earns her the Lola Lopes Award for Undergraduate Student Advocacy
Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Helena Dettmer, associate dean for undergraduate programs and curriculum in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is the recipient of the 2012 Lola Lopes Award for Undergraduate Student Advocacy.

Portrait of Helena Dettmer
Helena Dettmer

The award recognizes administrators, staff, or faculty outside of their teaching role who serve as strong and effective advocates for undergraduate students and the undergraduate experience. Winners are selected by a committee of staff, faculty, and students.

According to colleagues, Dettmer approaches everything she does with one question always in mind: How can we make the academic experience better for our students? She focuses on identifying obstacles that keep students from success—and then seeking innovative ways to remove those obstacles.

One example: Many more students hope to enroll in selective undergraduate programs—such as those in business, or the health sciences—than those programs are able to admit. Students who failed to gain admission after two years of preparatory coursework used to find themselves essentially back at square one, having to start over with a new major that required different foundational courses.

Dettmer saw a way to help by re-envisioning the Interdepartmental Studies Program. By organizing the major into a series of curricular tracks that build on the foundational courses of selective admission programs, she created a program that forges new pathways to graduation for many of these “displaced” students.

The new program has been a tremendous success, with many students reporting that they remained enrolled at the university because of it.

Dettmer’s advocacy for undergraduates is the common thread throughout her many areas of responsibility. In nomination materials, one colleague described Dettmer's "strong passion to help UI undergraduates obtain an education. I’ve seen her ‘in the trenches’ fighting for these students.”

Dettmer will receive a $1,000 honorarium and a certificate, and her name will be added to a plaque that will be displayed in the Admission Visitors Center.

The award is named in honor of Lola L. Lopes, former associate provost for undergraduate education and professor emerita of management and organizations in the Tippie College of Business. Lopes served as interim executive vice president and provost during 2007-08.